Lebanese Media Ethically Unmoored Covering Revolution: MU Director

Lebanese media seem ethically unmoored amid a revolution that began in October 2019 with the spread of misleading, suspicious and unverified news via WhatsApp and other means, Magda Abu-Fadil told Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program.

“Unfortunately, traditional and social media platforms are used as weapons to launch verbal wars among parties, individuals and political groups,” said the Media Unlimited director.

She said countless journalists acted unprofessionally and lacked the requisite background in history, geography, economics and politics in which they’re mired and which they don’t fully comprehend.

Radio Monte Carlo Doualiya’s “Digital” program

“They’re spoon-fed by politicians and they’ve been bred on this,” she said, adding that she wouldn’t generalize because there are professional and articulate journalists.

Since the uprising began on October 17, there’s been an abnormal slide downward, and journalists working for TV channels, for example, have been using hashtags to attack assorted and sundry on social media, Abu-Fadil noted.

“That’s unacceptable, it diminishes their credibility,” she said.

Journalists have also been seen arguing heatedly, or practically fighting, with demonstrators in Lebanon live on the air over political and other issues.

“Journalists should not become the news,” cautioned Abu-Fadil. “Journalists cover the news, but some of them have over-inflated egos and consider themselves newsworthy, which is a big mistake because there’s a red line they shouldn’t cross.”

Another issue she touched on was the upsurge in coverage of humanitarian cases with the growing impact of the economic crisis in Lebanon and TV channels competing to show the most misery by barging into people’s homes with their microphones, lights and cameras to highlight the decrepit houses and horrible conditions in which they live.

“They ask questions like ‘how do you feel living in a house that’s crumbling over your head?’ It’s shameful,” she said. “There’s people’s dignity to consider.”

Abu-Fadil said it was the responsibility of the journalists and those who direct news teams to demonstrate more sensitivity and ethics in such reporting, adding that there’s an obvious lack of training.

“Quite often it’s also because there isn’t enough time: Journalists tell me ‘you train us and give us advice, but the boss says we can’t do it, or the editor says there isn’t time,’” she said. “That’s unacceptable, there’s such a thing as media ethics.”

A sad case study she mentioned reflects the reality of the situation.

A veteran journalist wrote an op-ed in a major Lebanese Arabic-language newspaper which he plagiarized in its entirety from an article that appeared earlier in English, also in Lebanon.

When the original author exposed him on Twitter, the journalist apologized, but it was a lame regret.

Magda Abu-Fadil’s reaction to a tweet about the plagiarized article

“It’s clear the person who plagiarized, who stole the article, has no ethics, is lacking in creativity, because he reached a dead end, where he couldn’t write any more,” Abu-Fadil said. “It happened to me years ago when I was a correspondent in Washington and the bureau chief used to steal my articles and delete my byline from stories or scoops and reports to make it appear as if he wrote them.”

Abu-Fadil said journalism education must keep up with the state of the industry and technology and journalists should attend regular workshops to update and upgrade their skills to be fully functional in a digital multimedia ecosystem, notably when faced with crises such as the one Lebanon is experiencing.

MU Director to Cairo Confab: Fight Disinformation With MIL

“Don’t believe everything you see.”

That’s how Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil began a presentation with a picture of Britain’s Prince William seemingly giving someone the finger.

Seen from another angle, the Duke of Cambridge looked like he was gesturing with the number three – a significant difference.

Magda Abu-Fadil to Cairo confab: “Don’t believe everything you see.”

She was, once again, beating the Media and Information Literacy (MIL) drum, this time to an audience of students, faculty members, media and others at the American University in Cairo in April 2019 as a panelist at the “Cultivating Cooperation: How Industry and Academia Can Transform Digital Storytelling” conference co-organized by AUC and the Egypt Media Development Program.

AUC-EMPD conference flyer

She told them it can be confusing when ‘information disorder’ comes from the highest authority and showed a video of U.S. President Donald Trump in an Orwellian clip telling his audience not to believe what they saw in the media.

That’s why fact-checker has become a full-time job, like that of reporter, editor, producer, and infographic designer in many news organizations.

Abu-Fadil provided various case studies of MIL, the importance of critical thinking and that in an age of “fake news” and alternative facts students need to grasp the concept of media and information literacy to understand news as a means to detect ‘information disorder’ in obvious and subliminal messages.

UNESCO’s MIL concept

She presented the different types of literacies under the MIL umbrella as defined by
UNESCO: Information literacy, library literacy, freedom of expression and freedom of information literacy, digital literacy, computer literacy, internet literacy, games literacy, cinema literacy, television literacy, news literacy, advertising literacy, and media literacy.

Abu-Fadil said in 2016, UNESCO, the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations and Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, published the “Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa” yearbook for which she was the lead editor and key co-author.

Opportunities for Media and Information Literacy in the Middle East and North Africa

A newer book she co-authored for UNESCO is “Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation.” It’s also a university course that can be taught during a whole semester, or as modules in other courses.

Journalism, Fake News & Disinformation

The MU director spoke about entering dangerous territory in the digital era with artificial intelligence (AI), notably deepfake. She showed how a deepfake video is produced and how misleading it can be.

She said students should understand that privacy is dead and that anything they post on social media can (and very likely) will come back to haunt them.

UNESCO’s false experts chart

Another form of “disinformation” is manipulation of information with false experts: in academia, government, science, medicine, finance, the environment, and even the media.

Last, but not least, she plugged an older paper she wrote for UNESCO, “Media Literacy: A Tool to Combat Stereotypes and Promote Intercultural Understanding.”

MU Director Equips Tunisian Media With Migration Coverage Know-How

Migration, refugees and human trafficking once again featured at a three-day workshop in Tunis grouping 16 journalists from various media who learned how to shape the story, focus the narrative, keep it ethical, and make it more relatable.

How to cover migration, refugees and human trafficking

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, cameraman/editor David Hands and senior media training and exchange expert at the Open Media Hub Petko Georgiev led the mini-course.

Magda Abu-Fadil and David Hands mentor Tunisian journalists during workshop on migration and media

It aimed at helping the reporters and editors better understand the subject, identify who the stakeholders are, acquire the correct terminology to define people and their status, know where to dig for contextual information, and what traps to avoid when reporting the story.

 

Tunisian journalists complete in-session exercise

The workshop in November 2018 included journalists from Tunisia’s national television channel, newspapers, news websites, the state-run national news agency and radio stations.

They had proposed story ideas to pursue prior to the training and several went out with Hands to shoot footage and conduct interviews during the sessions.

 

David Hands helps edit footage for a migration story

On their return to the mentoring periods the journalists were then guided by Hands and Georgiev on the mechanics of assembling the elements into viable short pieces for broadcast while Abu-Fadil pitched in advice on ethics and interviewing techniques.

The previous week Abu-Fadil moderated a panel at the Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis where some 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries gathered to probe the question: Journalism Useful for Citizens?

Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis drew 500 Francophone participants from Euromed and West African countries

The three-day event in the Tunisian capital – almost 50 thematic sessions, debates, exhibitions and side activities – comes at a critical time when freedom of expression is being tested and violated on a daily basis in many of the countries from which the delegates hailed.

Abu-Fadil chaired a session entitled “No Useful Journalism Without Verification: How Do We Confirm An Image, Information?” during which she also plugged the UNESCO book she co-authored “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” .

 

Abu-Fadil (right) chairs panels on verification

The Assises Internationales Du Journalisme De Tunis is supported financially and programmatically by the Open Media Hub, which is implemented by the Thomson Foundation.

Abu-Fadil Pens MIL Chapter in UNESCO “Fake News” Course/Book

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil wrote a teaching module on media and information literacy in a course aimed at creating awareness about “fake news.”

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization supported the initiative as part of UNESCO’s Excellence in Journalism Education Series for the International Programme for the Development of Communication (IPDC).

The result: “Journalism, Fake News and Disinformation” published in the summer of 2018.

She joined a stellar group of journalists, academics and media experts in producing the course that can also be used by newsrooms and anyone concerned by the distortion of information.

This handbook for journalism education and training is a 128-page compendium of seven modules comprising lessons, exercises, assignments, activities, materials, and resources to create awareness about an increasingly relevant topic. The full text can be downloaded here.

It explores the very nature of journalism with modules on why trust matters; thinking critically about how digital technology and social platforms are conduits of information disorder; fighting back against disinformation and misinformation through media and information literacy; fact-checking 101; social media verification and combatting online abuse.

Abu-Fadil’s contribution, Module 4 “Combatting Disinformation and Misinformation Through Media and Information Literacy (MIL)” can be downloaded separately here.

MU Director Contributes to UNESCO Internet Universality Indicators

How can one establish indicators for the Internet and make them universal when governments can’t agree on the degree of freedom and access their citizens should have online, and, whether doing so is a human right.

 

 

Defining Internet Universality Indicators

A daunting task UNESCO has been undertaking in a bid to produce a document member states will approve after which comes the equally formidable mission of implementing what’s been agreed upon.

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil pitched in after receiving the second of two drafts that came up for discussion at an invitation-only roundtable, and open follow-up session, at the annual International Journalism Festival (IJF) in Perugia, Italy in April 2018.

UNESCO, the UN agency with primary responsibility for media freedom and journalists’ safety, is consulting worldwide on what’s worth counting when assessing the Internet. The final ‘indicators’ will form an international standard for mapping national experiences – and for identifying where there are shortfalls.  But where do journalism and the news media fit in within UNESCO’s paradigm called “Internet Universality”? UNESCO uses the acronym ROAM to identify the key principles of Internet Universality. R for Rights, O for Openness, A for accessibility and M for Multistakeholder participation in Internet governance. In terms of R(ights), how should assessments consider press freedom, journalists’ digital safety, and confidentiality of journalists’ sources and investigations? What indicators relevant to journalism come under O(penness) – encompassing open and transparent standards, markets and content? In regard to A(ccessibility), to what extent can news literacy and access to the Internet for researching and publishing journalism be included as issues worthy of attention? And, for (M)ultistakeholder participation in Internet governance issues, how significant is it to assess processes as to whether journalists are actively involved? 

Abu-Fadil (front row shooting video of women foreign correspondents session) at IJF in Perugia (courtesy Silvia Mazzocchin)

The second phase kicked in from December 2017 to March 2018, with a final report submitted to UNESCO at the end of April for consideration in September.

Julie Posetti, senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) at Oxford University, led the roundtable that grouped Dr. Alexandra Borchardt (RISJ), Prof. Jeff Jarvis from City University in New York, and Prof. Chris Anderson of Leeds University as the other three speakers assigned to provide key input.

Julie Posetti, senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Oxford University

 Sixteen other international experts shared invaluable comments and insights at that gathering.

“Journalism in the Internet Age”: MU Director to NDU Students

“We need journalists to tell the story and tell it well,” Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told media graduate students at Lebanon’s Notre Dame University during a Skype discussion on journalism and its transformation.

Abu-Fadil Skypes with NDU students

The virtual seminar “Journalism in the Internet Age: Trends, Tools and Technologies” November 15, 2017 began with a presentation reviewing Abu-Fadil’s evolution from an analog to a digital journalist in a career spanning over four decades.

“Whether you’re using analog or digital tools, what matters is the content,” she told students of Rouba El Helou-Sensenig’s JOU 640 class.

 

MU director explains her start as an analog, manual journalist

The discussion also focused on adapting journalism skills to incorporate technological changes like Artificial Intelligence (AI), Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) and Mixed Reality (MR).

 

Demonstrating the use of a smartphone for mobile journalism

Abu-Fadil explained how newsrooms must reinvent themselves just to keep up.

She said what she could do with a large bag of equipment – cameras, lenses, filters, batteries, rolls of film, recorders, notebooks and more – she can now accomplish with a small smartphone, some pocket-size accessories, and apps.

MU Director Speaks on Media/Migrant/Refugee Coverage, Presents Award

International organizations and government officials are paying attention to the need for collaboration with media on the migrant/refugee crisis to mitigate a rising tide of xenophobia egged on by false and toxic reporting.

The International Center for Migration Policy Development (ICMPD), partnering with the European Union (EU), Euro Mediterranean Migration IV (EMM4) and the government of Malta, organized the “Director General Conference: Balancing the Narrative on Migration, The Role of Media and Policymakers” in Valetta in June 2017 aimed at balancing the narrative on migration.

Narrative on migration and media conference

Topics included a panel on the role of the media and migration reporting in informing the public during which Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil presented a Lebanese social media case study of politics, sectarianism, xenophobia, hate speech, a counter-narrative, and, pushback from maligned parties.

The conference grouped policymakers, media representatives and academics who discussed how media and different stakeholder groups, including policymakers, communicate on migration, how the media gather, use and convey migration-related data, and how this ultimately influences the narrative and public opinion on migration.

 

Magda Abu-Fadil presents Lebanese social media case study

Abu-Fadil also spoke of the importance of promoting critical thinking, and reinforcing awareness to combat online hate speech and fake news against migrants and refugees through media, information and news literacy.

 

Organizers, along with Open Media Hub hosted in Valetta the first Migration Media Award for journalistic excellence on migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region. It’s an EU-funded journalism competition for which Abu-Fadil served as one of the judges.

 

Migration Media Award recipients and judges

It recognized 35 journalists from 16 countries for their journalistic excellence in reporting on migration in the Euro-Mediterranean region.

Abu-Fadil handed the first prize in the print category to Moroccan journalist Salaheddine Lemaizi for his winning entry “Right to Asylum: What to do with Syrian Refugees?”

 

Abu-Fadil hands Migration Media Award to Salaheddine Lemaizi

The winning entries featured fact-based and impartial reporting on the complexity of migration, its many challenges and opportunities.

UNESCO/IFJ Launch Journalists Safety University Course

UNESCO’s Beirut office and the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) launched the “Model Course on Safety of Journalists,” to help lessen dangers to media workers by incorporating a safety course in university curricula across the Middle East/North Africa (MENA).

The course covers: a broad introduction to journalism safety and threats to media workers; planning for personal safety; personal health care and trauma in hostile environments; risk assessment; travel security; digital security; gender and safe reporting; covering demonstrations and civil unrest; human rights and humanitarian law; ethics; and, safety and investigative journalism.

IFJ’s Anthony Bellanger, Lebanese Education Ministry’s Ahmad Jammal and UNESCO’s Sylvie Coudray and George Awad

It was published and launched in Beirut, Lebanon in May 2017 in hard copy in English and Arabic. It is available as downloadable PDFs in both languages as a gift to academics and students.

Arabic version of safety course

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil, Michael Foley, and Clare Arthurs prepared the 174-page English version to shed light on fatalities, injuries, and disappearances that are at record highs in the MENA region and prepare students for dangers they’re likely to face.

Lebanese University professor Hassana Rachid translated the book to Arabic.

Foley is a former journalist who moved into academia, as did Arthurs, a BBC journalist-turned-instructor and trainer.

 

Magda Abu-Fadil presents lessons in safety for journalists course

Abu-Fadil is a veteran journalist who has worked in the staid halls of academe, where media curricula in the MENA countries have not always kept pace with the skills needed and job market requirements.

Abu-Fadil Raises Media Ethics Issues at COPEAM 2017 Confab

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil told a Beirut conference the issue of fake news may cause extensive damage and provided examples of how Photoshopped pictures and distorted videos go viral on social media.

RAI President Monica Maggioni, Anna Lindh Foundation Executive Director Hatem Atallah, Media Unlimited Director Magda Abu-Fadil and AFP video journalist Will Vassilopoulos

“Professionalism and media ethics equal a winning equation in the 21st Century,” she said at the “Mediterranean Storytelling: Complexities, Media Response and Public Opinion” event, adding that today’s wars and crises are defined as social media and fabricated news conflicts.

Abu-Fadil was speaking at the at the 24th Annual Conference and 23rd General Assembly of COPEAM, the Permanent Conference of Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators in Beirut, Lebanon, in May 2017.

She joined experts seeking solutions to coverage of complex issues, notably migration, terrorism, fake news, their impact, and audience behavior.

COPEAM is a non-profit association devoted to the promotion of dialogue and cultural integration in the Mediterranean region through the involvement of the audiovisual sector’s major players.

 

COPEAM conferees discuss their roles and responsibilities

These include public service radio and TV broadcasters of 26 countries, as well as professional and cultural associations, higher education institutions, and, independent producers and local authorities from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East.

Rome-based COPEAM groups 60 members. It acts on a multilateral cooperation formula aimed at enhancing and exchanging expertise within its network.

The Assault on Journalism: Building Knowledge to Protect Freedom of Expression

Media Unlimited director Magda Abu-Fadil wrote a chapter in “The Assault on Journalism: Building Knowledge to Protect Freedom of Expression.”

The book was edited by Ulla Carlsson and Reeta Pöyhtäri and published in May 2017 by Nordicom at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

The chapter, “Journalism Schools Must Include Safety Courses in Curricula,” was based on an urgent call she made at the 2016 UNESCO World Press Freedom Day conference in Helsinki, Finland.

Too many journalists are victims of violence and impunity, and more should be done in academia to prepare media students for the perils they are likely to face.

I urge all faculty members at this conference to incorporate a course on safety for journal­ists in their curricula. It’s not a luxury; it’s an urgent necessity.

According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), one journal­ist is killed every five days in the line of duty and the impunity of such acts is unabated.

Unlike the issues of journalism and freedom of expression, journalists’ safety has not been a popular topic of academic research. It has rarely been discussed as a specific research question, much less in practical courses….

The “Model Course on Safety of Journalists” on which she worked is now in print in English and Arabic and will be online on the UNESCO and IFJ websites.